9:25 PM - Twisted Metal: Head-On
I haven't played a decent game of vehicular carnage since Carmageddon on the PC so I made it a point to get Twisted Metal: Head-On (FAQs, reviews) once I got the PSP.
I knew from the outset that it was a loud, dumb game but it's not without its charms. The game looks and sounds really good and it makes a much better demonstration of the PSP's audio-visual capabilities than, say, Lumines. In terms of gameplay, there's definitely something appealing about driving around exotic locales and showing your appreciation for the different cultures by breaking traffic laws and blowing stuff up.
There are three game modes: Story, Challenge and Multiplayer. I'll limit my comments to the single-player modes because I haven't found anyone in my neighbourhood with a PSP let alone a PSP owner with TM:HO.
In all modes, you drive a vehicle around in large arenas and victory involves defeating all your opponents. You do this mostly by blasting away with various weaponry. To aid you in your offensive driving undertakings, power-ups litter the arena and these confer various benefits.
The story mode requires you to first pick a vehicle. Each has different characteristics and each is driven by a character with a reason for taking part in the Twisted Metal competition. Once you've completed 11 levels and defeated three bosses along the way, you will be rewarded with a cinematic unique to each character. All story endings feature twists of the sort a 12-year-old might find intriguing and deep but everyone else will roll their eyes as they see the ending coming a mile away.
The game is a lot more twitchy than what I'm usually used to and I couldn't really get into the game until I got comfortable with the controls. Before that, vehicles under my control would careen wildly all over the place and I would count myself fortunate if I managed to land a single hit on an opponent.
Fortunately, the game is very lenient. It doesn't feature a sophisticated driving model and there's not much of a damage model either. Your Health Meter dwindles only after taking weapon damage or being rammed by opponents and even then, it doesn't affect your vehicle's handling in any way. A vehicle with a blinking red Health Meter will handle as well as it would if it was in pristine condition.
Should you die, you get two additional lives per level and even if you run out of lives, you're given the opportunity to replay the level. Succeed and you're given a chance to save the game. With all the player crutches available, progressing through the story mode should be a breeze once you've mastered the controls.
The Challenge mode is an action-packed and enjoyable way to kill a few minutes (not to mention a few AI opponents). Pick the arena of your choice and a character to play and then select five opponents to play against.
There are different mini-games in each arena which unlock additional characters/vehicles and provide power-ups but I found these optional side-games to be much tougher and less appealing and didn't spend much time on them.
To summarise, TM:HO is not a classic game that will be remembered down the years as one of the greats but I found it an entertaining diversion and that's a lot right there. Thumbs-up.
Tips for the twisted
The first thing you ought to do when playing in a new arena is to drive around and locate the Health and Turbo power-ups. The power-ups respawn at the same spot so it's important to locate the spot.
Each vehicle's special weapon is powerful but your basic weapons will do most of the work. The machine guns are initially weak and useless but once you've powered them up, they're absolutely devastating. Of the missiles, I relied heavily on the Fire Missiles and Homing Missiles. The Power Missile packs a punch but you need to freeze your opponents before using it since it lacks homing capabilities.
Check your energy levels before you get close to the bosses because you will need to activate the shields if you go toe to toe with them.
Cousin Eddy is the first of the bosses and defeating him is simple enough. Take out the hillbillies on his sides and on top of him -- freeze him first to make this easier -- and the final stage ought to be a cinch.
Dark Tooth is slightly tougher but only until you realise he has an awful, awful turn rate. Find a large open-space and then shoot, scoot and out-turn him.The final boss, Tower Tooth, is a right bastard. I'm not sure which is worse: his firepower or his annoying laugh whenever he nails you. But defeating him is surprisingly easy. First, drive around Tokyo picking up weapons and then park yourself in the alley next to the Full Health power-up. Once there, you can take potshots at the big bad guy without taking much damage in return.